We comprised a Munster Hurling XV of the half-decade last week, so now it is the turn of the Leinster championship. The introductions of Antrim and Galway to the province along with an improving Dublin have significantly improved the quality of the Leinster championship in recent years.
A few years ago, this would have been a full Kilkenny XV and a rather pointless exercise, but it is only right that we look at the best team Leinster hurling can put together since 2010.
The last team was heavily questioned, and we are expecting nothing different this time around.
1. Gary Maguire – Dublin
One area where Leinster definitely does lack in comparison to Munster is the goalkeeping department. There have been plenty of good goalkeepers in Leinster but very few outstanding ones. We give the nod here to Dublin’s Gary Maguire.
He is Leinster’s sole all-star at number one in the last five years. He performed very well in four of those five seasons. David Herrity and Eoghan Murphy of Kilkenny have been quite error prone while James Skehill and Colm Callanan of Galway have also failed to outdo Maguire.
Honourable Mention: Colm Callanan (Galway)
2. Paul Murphy – Kilkenny
Despite a shaky beginning to 2015 having been moved to full-back in the raft of Kilkenny retirements, Murphy has probably been the best all round defender in Ireland for the last five years. He has been phenomenal since his debut season in 2011.
He has moved between corner-back and half-back over the years but wherever he has played he has been exceptional. He has shown excellent skill levels and excellent man-marking ability. Murphy has simply been a class act.
Honourable Mention: Fergal Moore (Galway)
3. JJ Delaney – Kilkenny
The less words the better for JJ Delaney. Titles like ‘the best defender of all time’ have been accredited to Delaney following his recent retirement and it is hard enough to disagree. He was a brilliant defender and an all-round brilliant hurler.
He made his name as a full-back but he only went there out of necessity for the team. His best position was left half-back but he rarely played there and moved to full-back and did an outstanding job. He had aerial prowess, excellent tackling and great skill. He had everything, and shows some of it below;
Honourable Mention: Peter Kelly (Dublin)
4. Jackie Tyrell – Kilkenny
The Kilkenny man completes the full-back line and it is safe to say that this could go down as one of the best last lines of defence that hurling has ever seen. Tyrell was one of the elder Kilkenny players who didn’t retire at the end of the 2014 season and will be looked to as a real leader going forward.
He has been the best and most consistent number four in the country for almost the last ten years, not to mind the last five. He is a big physical presence with good mobility that allows him to deal with all sorts of threats from attackers. And his trademark clearances relive huge pressure and his heavy hits were also a big part of his game.
Honourable Mention: Keith Rossiter (Wexford)
5. Tommy Walsh – Kilkenny
It is funny how a Team of the Half Decade can turn into a tribute to some of the greatest players to play the game. But names like Murphy, Delaney, Tyrell and now Tommy Walsh can only lead to such a thing.
Walsh was an incredible player and the greatest of his generation, if not all time according to Pundit Arena. He hung up his hurl after the 2014 season, and carried his great form from 2010 onwards. His last season may not have been as good as his others, but his wasn’t surpassed by anyone.
Honourable Mention: Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny)
6. Brian Hogan – Kilkenny
He was often one of the Kilkenny players who did not receive the same level of plaudits as others in what was a star studded side. Hogan was a mainstay at the fulcrum of their team and their defence and carried out his duties to a high level on a consistent basis.
The main thing that people will remember about Hogan was his high catching. On so many occasions long deliveries were sent from opposition defences only for Hogan to put up his right hand, field the sliotar and set up another Kilkenny attack.
Honourable Mention: Kieran Joyce (Kilkenny)
7. Liam Rushe – Dublin
There is a small cheat in this one, seen as Rushe has not played at wing-back for Dublin for a consistent period, but he had to be in the team. He has had stints everywhere from the half-back line up for Dublin, with centre-back probably been his most effective spot.
He really shored up the Dublin defence when he moved to centre-back. He solidified what was a shaky enough back-line and he created a great platform for Dublin to attack from. He brought steel and passion to the Dublin side as he matured and remains a vital player for them.
Honourable Mention: Michael Carton (Dublin)
8. Richie Hogan – Kilkenny
He may have flattered to deceive in his opening years as a Kilkenny hurler but on the balance of the last five years, it is impossible to leave Richie Hogan out of this selection and the fact that he has played his best hurling at midfield sees him positioned at number eight.
He played an important role in their 2011 success, with two goals in the semi-final against Waterford and another vital outstanding goal in the final against Tipperary. He was then Hurler of the Year in 2014 after a brilliant season at midfield, where he showed his capability to be the best in the country.
Honourable Mention: Iarla Tannion (Galway)
9. Michael Fennelly – Kilkenny
Michael Fennelly performed at his very best in the 2010 and 2011 seasons for Kilkenny and at that stage he was the stand-out hurler in Ireland. He was a big physical athletic presence, with pace and power that nobody could match. His goal in the 2011 All-Ireland final showed this and he was Hurler of the Year in that season.
Since then, he has been hampered by injuries. As a result, the country has not seen Fennelly at his best but he has still performed well enough to be seen as one of the best Leinster hurlers of the last five years. He still played an important role in the 2014 All-Ireland final replay.
Honourable Mention: Michael Rice (Kilkenny)
10. TJ Reid – Kilkenny
TJ Reid is similar to the aforementioned Richie Hogan in that he was failing to really make his mark on the Kilkenny side for a long time. His potential was there for all to see but he was in and out of the team and was failing to string consistent performances together at the highest level.
Saying that, he was an all-star in 2012 and had his best season for the Cats in 2014 when he really stepped up to the plate in the leadership stakes in the absences of the likes of Henry Shefflin and Richie Power. So overall, the last five years have been very good for TJ Reid.
Honourable Mention: David Burke (Galway)
11. Henry Shefflin – Kilkenny
Back to the tribute club again as King Henry takes his place at centre-forward. He has played almost every position in the forward line for Kilkenny and best fits in here where he leads that attack and those around him better than anybody else.
By no means would people say that Shefflin has been at his best for the last five years but he has done more than enough to earn a place in this team. He played important roles in 2011 and 2012 as Kilkenny lifted more All-Ireland titles. He may have been off the pace for his last two seasons, but he still has to be in this team.
Honourable Mention: Colin Fennelly (Kilkenny)
12. Danny Sutcliffe – Dublin
Some may see him as a young player to be included he has been one of the best hurlers in Ireland for the last three years and that is enough to earn a place in the team of the last five years. He has been excellent since entering the Dublin side as a twenty year old and he has a massive future to come.
He has all the attributes of a top class wing forward. He can win his own ball on the floor or in the air. He can take on players and score himself. He can take on players and create. He gets on the end of chances and is a great finisher of points and goals.
Honourable Mention: Liam Watson (Antrim)
13. Richie Power – Kilkenny
Richie Power would follow a similar path to Michael Fennelly and Henry Shefflin over the last five years. He has had a lot of injury problems but he has still managed to do enough to be one of the country’s leading forwards. He is still an extremely important member of the Kilkenny side.
Like so many other Kilkenny players, what sets Power aside from others is his ability to win his own ball. If a midfielder or half-back is in doubt, they know that they can drive the ball long and high into someone like Power, who can catch, take players on and score on a regular basis.
Honourable Mention: Damien Hayes (Galway)
14. Joe Canning – Galway
To some people, Canning is becoming a bit of an enigma. Will we ever see the best of him? Does too much hype surround him? Is he a victim of Galway’s lack of consistency? Will he be remembered as well as he could be? There are a lot of questions that follow Canning, but he has performed very well over the last five years, despite some Galway woes.
2012 was Canning’s real highlight where he had an outstanding year and was very very close to leading Galway to the All-Ireland title. He has played well since then, while Galway have been playing poorly. This should not take away from Canning, who on an individual basis has still been one of Ireland’s best in the first half of the decade.
Honourable Mention: Shane Dooley (Offaly)
15. Eoin Larkin – Kilkenny
The last place in the team goes to yet another Kilkenny man, Eoin Larkin. He has moved between positions in the forward line over the last five seasons, between wing-forward, full-forward, corner-forward and he has also played a roaming role around the forward to focus on hooking, blocking and tackling.
He has not hit the heights that he has back in the late 2000’s but has still played a vital role in Kilkenny’s successes. He was captain in 2012, scored the vital insurance point in 2011 and set the template in 2014 through his hard work. He was also one of their best players in the poor 2013 season.
Honourable Mention: Eddie Brennan (Kilkenny)
So there is the Leinster equivalent of our selection. There are a lot of Kilkenny players, but it should be the case seen as they have won three of the five All-Ireland titles on offer in the first half of the decade.
Anyway, the public were very vocal in their criticism of the Munster selection last week. Don’t hold back this time around either.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.